Drugs & Health Blog

Tolerance, Dependence, Addiction: What's the Difference?

The NIDA Blog Team

Many people think drug addiction, dependence, and tolerance are pretty much the same thing. But in fact, each term means something very different about how drugs affect a person’s body and brain. Learning the difference is important.


Tolerance happens when a person no longer responds to a drug in the way they did at first. So it takes a higher dose of the drug to achieve the same effect as when the person first used it. This is why people with substance use disorders use more and more of a drug to get the “high” they seek.


Dependence means that when a person stops using a drug, their body goes through “withdrawal”: a group of physical and mental symptoms that can range from mild (if the drug is caffeine) to life-threatening (such as alcohol or opioids, including heroin and prescription pain relievers). Many people who take a prescription medicine every day over a long period of time can become dependent; when they go off the drug, they need to do it gradually, to avoid withdrawal discomfort. But people who are dependent on a drug or medicine aren’t necessarily addicted.


Unlike tolerance and dependence, addiction is a disease; but like tolerance and dependence, addiction can result from taking drugs or alcohol repeatedly. If a person keeps using a drug and can’t stop, despite negative consequences from using the drug, they have an addiction (also called a severe substance use disorder). But again, a person can be dependent on a drug, or have a high tolerance to it, without being addicted to it.

See what teens are asking about tolerance, dependence, and addiction—and the answers—here.

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


How can this ever-growing need be stopped?

One way is by educating people on the dangers of using drugs, so hopefully they never start in the first place.

Doctors have a responsibility to warn patients of the possibility of dependence when they offer prescription drugs. This does not always happen.
I feel people shouldn't be experiments for science research especially if they aren't recieveing compensation for it and there are other ways to heal besides prescription drugs.
that is so true well done for thinking about other people in the world some drugs go from legal to illegal drugs
Which of the these three are the worst?

Addiction is the worst, because the person continues to use despite negative consequences. Even if they lose their job, fail in school, or get in trouble with the law, they keep using. They hurt not just themselves but many others around them.


There are no illicit drugs that have been proven to help you safely lose weight. People with severe substance use disorders often substitute food for drugs, and will lose nutrition and weight, with very unhealthy outcomes.

It sounds like addiction is the big issue. (I think you can become tolerant or dependent to stuff that no one would abuse like pills for allergies or depression.) So is it possible to use drugs responsibly and not become addicted? Alcohol is addictive, but most adults use it responsibly and don't become alcoholics. So is it possible for adults to use pot responsibly? Do most adults using pot become addicted? Do people stopping get those life threatening withdrawal symptoms? It seems like pot is worse than alcohol mostly because it's illegal. If alcohol is addictive do you drink or hang out with people who drink responsibly?

Unfortunately, there’s no way for us to know who will become addicted and who won’t. There are many factors that influence a person's risk of addiction. For example, different drugs have different effects on the brain and body, and the risks can also vary based on individual factors such as a person’s physical health, genetics, and social support. But all drugs have a risk for addiction.
Learn more about what puts you at risk: view our video, Anyone Can Become Addicted to Drugs at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SY2luGTX7Dk.

dont get it
Really cool stuff guys
be safe never do drugs

Add new comment